Thursday, May 19, 2011

The blotter

The arrest of Congressman Hinchey's wife, Allison Lee (who's also a noted Albany lobbyist), on a DWI charge has predictably generated lots of comments to our newspaper's website. Most are partisan shots at the congressman, but some are critical of the newspaper.

Consider this excerpt:

"The real issue here is the Freeman and what they consider newsworthy. Unlike other publications, the Freeman makes a sport out of mudslinging and printing the names of people charged with misdemeanors (felonies are a different matter). It even goes so far as to print court updates of pleas, etc. Then, if an offender is someone of any note around town, the person gets an entire article - and in this case, a photo too. This is just wrong.

"People make mistakes and when they get into trouble, they want more than ever just to be left alone to deal with it. It is sad that the Freeman enables its readers to revel in the misery of their neighbors."

I'm afraid I don't have the energy to explain to someone why this story is news. Or why the news is more significant if it involves "someone of any note." History says such explanations would fall on deaf ears.

I will say, however, that community newspapers typically report lesser offenses than larger newspapers. Why? Because newspapers that serve a larger market often can't devote the space to the many more misdemeanors they'd have to report. Moreover, a major felony in our community is likely to be reported on the front page. The same kind of felony in New York City might attract a brief story inside a newspaper (or maybe even go unreported), because those crimes are more commonplace in big cities.

Point is, there is a procedure and standards for reporting police news. All newspapers have them. And the bottom line is that newspapers try to inform their readers as best they can with the limited resources at their disposal ... even if the news is uncomfortable for some people to read.
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